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Opportunity for a Lifetime

Changes to UM Financial Aid Program Increase Benefits for Mississippi Students

Incoming freshmen race into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as part of Rebel Run 2021. Going forward, recent changes to the Ole Miss Opportunity program will help the university recruit new students and retain them through graduation. Photo by Logan Kirkland

Among recent changes to a University of Mississippi financial assistance program is a benefit that enables Ole Miss to help more deserving students attend college.

Ole Miss Opportunity (OMO) guarantees that eligible Mississippi residents receive financial support to cover the average cost of tuition, housing and meals. Since 2017, the benefit was available only for students whose family income was $32,500 or below.

Beginning with the 2022-2023 academic year, family income can be as much as $40,000, meaning the university can offer financial aid to a greater number of potential students.

“We actually were given three different Ole Miss Opportunity changes in one fell swoop which was wonderful,” said Laura Diven-Brown, director of Financial Aid.

In addition to the increased financial assistance threshold, OMO can now cover the extra housing cost for students who want to join the FASTrack program and live in their special “Living Learning Community,” instead of a traditional residence hall. Available to all new OMO students, FASTrack is a retention program that promotes academic success and helps first-year students transition to college.

A third change to the program eliminates the income threshold for students who want to keep OMO benefits as upperclassmen, meaning they can renew each year even if their family income increases. As long as they remain Pell Grant eligible, an indicator of high financial need, and meet enrollment requirements, they can stay in OMO.

“This change will significantly improve our ability to retain students. Small income changes should not mean that students can no longer qualify,” Diven-Brown said. “They were depending on the substantial support that OMO provides, and we want to make sure they have the chance to go all the way to graduation.

“Ole Miss Opportunity is a hidden gem that other schools don’t have,” she continued, adding that OMO fills the gap in funding after all federal, state, institutional and private scholarships and grants awarded to the student have been considered. To be eligible, students must be full-time, degree-seeking freshman Mississippi residents.

Additionally, OMO applicants must qualify for a federal Pell Grant as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and have at least a 3.0 high school grade-point average.

OMO funding will be provided for eight regular semesters or until the first baccalaureate degree is awarded as long as the student continues to meet eligibility requirements.

“This is a commitment to the students and residents of Mississippi,” said Eduardo Prieto, vice chancellor for enrollment management. “It also supports students from a variety of diverse backgrounds.

“If a Mississippi resident wants to come to the University of Mississippi, we want them to apply regardless of finances,” Prieto continued. “Through this program and other resources, we have the means to make the University of Mississippi education realistic for students. That’s why this program is so important.”

Each year, some 400 students benefit from OMO and over 1,600 have been helped since UM started the program 2010. This year, its benefits package totaled more than $19,000 per person — aid that can be transformative for a young person with dreams of higher education especially when tuition alone costs almost $9,000 per semester.

“As a first-generation college student, the Ole Miss Opportunity program gave me the incentive I needed to leave home and pursue a four-year degree,” said a senior who preferred to remain anonymous. “Without Ole Miss Opportunity, I might not have been able to go to college to pursue my dream of becoming an engineer. Now, that goal is within reach and, in a few months, I’ll be working in the field I love.”

The University of Mississippi remains the largest underwriter of the OMO program, which has an annual cost of over $3 million, Prieto said. However, many generous donors, including Eli and Abby Manning, have established OMO endowments that help fund a portion of the program costs.

“As a university, we feel like it’s important for us to invest in Mississippi and it’s part of our commitment to the state’s residents as the flagship school,” Prieto said. “If donors are inclined to do something that benefits the citizens of Mississippi, supporting OMO would be one of the most impactful ways to do that.”

For more information about Ole Miss Opportunity benefits, eligibility and application requirements, visit https://finaid.olemiss.edu/omo, email [email protected] or call (800) 891-4596.

To make a gift of any size to support Ole Miss Opportunity, mail a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the fund noted in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or visit https://give.olemiss.edu. For more information, contact Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development, at [email protected] or 662-915-3120.

By Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

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